Government workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, including those on the Youth Empowerment Service (YES) Programme, who make EC$546 or less a month, are being paid less money than is required for them to live above the poverty line.
This is according to data compiled from the latest poverty assessment, which the government is yet to release, almost three years later than scheduled.
However, the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) gave the data to the media at a press conference in Kingstown, on Wednesday.
“I just want to pause for a minute or two to point out that this government, by paying people on the YES programme $450 a month, has those people below the poverty line,” said NDP chairman, Daniel Cummings, the incumbent MP for West Kingstown.
“In other words, all the people employed by the government getting $450 a month are being paid less than the poverty line. No wonder [Opposition Leader] Dr. [Godwin] Friday has proposed that we are going to increase that by at least $200 to take those people above the poverty line,” Cummings said, referring to the NDP leader, who was also at the press conference.
“And that those who will be working with the private sector will be getting at least double that because the private sector will be matching,” he said.
The report shows that the monthly poverty line — the minimum expenditure required by an individual/household to fulfil their basic food and non-food needs — was estimated at EC$546.
The indigent/food line — the minimum amount of money needed to purchase some basic food bundle — was EC$262 monthly.
Households or persons unable to meet the cost of obtaining these basic food items are categorised as critically poor, indigent or food poor.
The data shows that 36.1% of the population was poor and 11.3% indigent.
The indigent population was about 12,421 residents and the majority of the poor and indigent reside in rural communities, but urban poor was also present.
The working poor were mainly engaged in industries such as agriculture, forestry and fishing; farmers and farm labourers; construction; construction labourers; wholesale and retail trade; cashiers; education; and cleaners/janitors
The opposition leader noted that note even a job guarantees that a person would avoid poverty in SVG.
“Among those who are working, people who are actually being paid a wage live below the poverty line.”
Friday said that when he speaks on the campaign platform about increasing the monthly payment for YES workers to EC$650, it is because of poverty in the country.
“So that they can put something in their pocket, because the truth is, for many of those persons, by the end of the month, they are actually subsidizing their job, because they can’t afford transportation, they have to bum a ride to get to work, or they can’t afford to pay for food,” the opposition leader said.
“And the evidence here is that they are being paid below, monthly, what is required, what is considered to be the poverty rate. So, you ask the question, but how is it helping. But, to go back to the issue, the general statistics among the working poor, among the employed, the poverty rate was 25.2%.”
“In a Labour government,” Cummings added